Job Opening: Duke Libraries Senior Conservation Technician

Duke University Libraries is seeking applicants for Senior Conservation Technician in the Verne and Tanya Roberts Conservation Lab.  Come join our team!

As Senior Conservation Technician you will:

books in presses

  • Carry out basic, intermediate, and advanced repairs primarily on circulating collection materials.
  • Construct custom enclosures for library materials from circulating and special collections.
  • Prepare items for the shelf including binding pamphlets, inserting loose materials, making pockets, etc.
  • Retrieve and triage materials from circulation points across the library system.
  • Manage lab spaces and equipment.
  • Manage student assistants including assisting in the hiring, interviewing, training, and quality control of their work.
  • Contribute to outreach initiatives including writing for our blog.

The job announcement outlines further job responsibilities and the application requirements:

Applicants invited for an interview will be expected to present a portfolio of work.

You will succeed in this role with these skills and abilities:

  • Demonstrated knowledge of book repair techniques for 19th and 20th Century library materials, including books bound in cloth, leather, and paper.
  • Demonstrated knowledge of the construction of a variety of custom enclosures for library materials.
  • Capable of managing multiple projects and priorities simultaneously.
  • Detail oriented with good problem-solving skills.
  • Ability to work independently and as part of a team.
  • Ability to teach basic conservation skills to student assistants with little or no conservation experience.

Salary and Benefits

Salary dependent on qualifications and experience; anticipated salary range $50,000-$60,000. Comprehensive benefits package includes 15 days vacation, 14 holidays, 12 days sick leave;   health, dental, disability and life insurance and support for professional development and training.

About us:

The Duke University Libraries are the center of intellectual life at Duke, one of the most highly ranked private universities in the nation. The William R. Perkins Library, Bostock Library, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, and von der Heyden Pavilion comprise the university’s main library complex, which is joined on East Campus by the Lilly and Music Libraries, and by the Pearse Memorial Library at the Duke Marine Lab. Together with the separately administered libraries serving the schools of Business, Divinity, Law, and Medicine, they comprise one of the country’s top 10 private research library systems. Consistently recognized as a great place to work, we strive to provide an inclusive, safe, and welcoming environment with equitable support for all people.

More information about the Duke Libraries and the Verne and Tanya Roberts Conservation Lab can be found here:

Where Curiosity Leads, the Duke University Libraries Strategic Plan, 2024-2029

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Duke University Libraries

Duke Libraries Conservation Services Department

Preservation Underground: Dispatches from the Duke University Libraries Preservation & Conservation Department

More about Duke and Durham:

Located halfway between the Great Smoky Mountains and the beaches of the Atlantic, Durham is home to hundreds of restaurants, more than 40 annual festivals, Duke and North Carolina Central universities, art and science museums, world-class medical facilities, and a rapidly growing, richly diverse population. One of three cities that make up North Carolina’s Research Triangle, Durham is known as a vibrant hub for innovation and technology, as well as an incubator of many successful start-ups. It is consistently ranked among the best places to live, do business, and retire. Learn more at

Duke University consistently ranks among the best employers in the country. Duke offers a comprehensive benefit packages which includes both traditional benefits such as health insurance, leave time and retirement, as well as wide ranging work/life and cultural benefits. Details can be found at: .

To learn more or to apply, please go to:

Quick Pic: Remove If You Need To

General Collections conservation is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get from Circulation. Lucky for us, this gentle reader only got through a couple chapters, not the whole text. We’ll take this over highlighting or underlining any day.

Sticky note on book
We do need to, thanks.
Sticky note on book
The fading would indicate these have been here a while.
Book with a lot of sticky notes
Arrows on stickies: 21st Century manicules?

When Items Keep Getting Bigger

Some treatments require a lot of coordination with our colleagues over in special collections to ensure that that they have a good permanent home in the stacks.  We construct custom housing to meet the specific needs of the item for storage, but we also need to be sure that the enclosure we design will actually fit on a shelf and can moved from the stacks to the reading room. Sometimes the description and shelving location in the catalog also need to be updated if the item changes size during treatment.

This 17th century English indenture and deed is a recent example that left the lab much larger than it arrived. It came to us folded up in a relatively small package, measuring around 7″ square. It unfolded into a pretty large (20″ x 30″) manuscript legal document, written in ink on parchment with the remains of five parchment strips and wax seals along the bottom. The earliest text dates from 1620, with five individuals (Symon Courte, Edward Pyne, Thomas Alcastle, Humfree Quicke, and yeoman John Hare) granting property rights in West Monkton to two people (Baldwine Wallet and yeoman Richard God). Additional text on the back dated 57 years later grants further inheritance of property rights to Robert Alcastle (Thomas Alcastle’s grandson and executor of his father’s estate).

Before treatment, photographed in raking light to emphasize the folds.

The bottom edge of the parchment is folded over so that the five parchment strips can lace through two layers and be held securely in place. The parchment strips were twisted together and rough balls of red wax were affixed to stop the strips from being removed. Some of the signatories wrote their names across both the document’s folded lower edge and the visible square of the parchment strip as an authentication or security measure.

The document was folded both vertically and horizontally several times to make storage easier, but it made opening and reading the document quite a challenge. The parchment has a strong memory and will fold back onto itself without being weighted down. Yellowed adhesive residue from pressure sensitive tape was visible along the top edge – maybe used as a previous mounting solution. The wax seals had also became quite banged up over the years, so only one of the wax balls remained intact. The broken remains of another had been wrapped in a thin textile and tied onto the parchment strip with string. Little bits of red wax would sometimes fall out of the pouch when handled.

After treatment, photographed in raking light.

After dry cleaning the front and back of the parchment and removing as much of the tape residue as I could, I performed some minor flattening of the parchment sheet. My goal was to flatten it enough that the document would lay open on its own, while still retaining the evidence of how it was folded up for storage.  I didn’t want any more fragments of the broken wax seal to be lost, so I took the remains out of the textile pouch and wrapped them in a little pleated package of soft Japanese paper, adhered closed with wheat starch paste. This seamed like a better solution than sealing them in some kind of stable plastic, like polyethylene, since the paper doesn’t crinkle so loudly. I tucked the package back inside the textile wrapping and secured it closed with some small stitches thin linen thread, toned to match.

My goal for the enclosure design was to protect all the different parts of the document, and also to help hold it flat should there be any changes in relative humidity. Boxes for parchment covered books often use of a restraining flap, so I thought something similar could be employed here with a rigid portfolio.

I knew this enclosure would be stored flat on the shelf, but I still didn’t want the document to move around too much inside – to protect the surface from abrasion, but also so as not to risk further damage to the parchment strips and wax. I cut a sheet of paper just a bit bigger than the dimensions of the document, then affixed wide paper corners to hold it in place. This was mounted to a sheet of matboard, which also had a sheet of E-flute corrugated board laminated to the back. This makes the matboard stiffer without adding much weight. Soft twill tape was laced through the board around where the two remaining wax seals were hanging, so they could be tied down and would not bounce around inside the box when it is served to a patron in the reading room.

The portfolio top flap is also made of laminated sheets of matboard and blue corrugated, with a Tyvek tape hinge along the top edge that attaches it to the bottom board. All of the corners were rounded and the bottom edge of the top flap’s matboard was sanded to take off the hard edge.

The custom sized portfolio ended up being larger than any of our standard metal edge boxes, so I created a custom fit telescoping lid box out of corrugated to hold it. Unfortunately we also don’t stock corrugated sheets large enough – so I had to join two sheets together with tyvek tape to make either the base or the lid. A third piece of corrugated was glued to the outside of both the lid and the base to stop the tape join from flexing when the box was lifted or tilted. The enclosure got a photo label at the bottom corner to help with identifying it on the shelf.

Removing the document from this enclosure to examine both front and back is fairly easy. After untying the twill tape, the parchment can be gently lifted out from under two of the paper corners, and then you can fully slide the document out. It actually requires two people to flip it over, since it is so large. While making this enclosure, I made sure to check that it wasn’t too large for the bigger shelves in the stacks and that it could fit through a standard-width door while resting on a cart.

Preservation Week: What’s in Your Disaster Supply Closet?

I inventory our disaster supplies and make sure people know where to find them every year during Preservation Week and May Day. We have plenty of supplies and equipment in the main library where Conservation is located. A couple years ago we expanded our supplies to include branch libraries and our Collections Services building.

Tote bin with disaster supplies
Branch Library Disaster Tote

While there are many disaster supply lists available online (see below), we found that for our locations we needed customized supply totes. Our totes are stocked with the basics that are needed to respond to small incidents, or start a response while staff await the disaster team’s arrival. Here is a screenshot of our tote contents. I will probably tweak this list going forward, but these totes have proved useful already by all of our branches.

A pdf of a list of supplies in each disaster tote.
Disaster Supply Tote Contents

Our supply cabinet in Collections Services contains the same supplies, plus it has some handy tools and supplies for Conservation when we are on site doing some minor repairs.

Disaster supply cabinet at central campus location.
Supply cabinet in Collections Services
Online Kit Supply Suggestions

There are a lot of resources out there that will advise you on what In our experience we have found that every site has different needs for their disaster kits. These are great places to start your supply list. If you are in a small institution, these can be a quick and easy way to get some supplies in place, then you can add/subtract supplies later to make the kits your own.

AIC Collections Emergency Kits This presentation from 2021 has a variety of handouts.
Harvard Library Recommended Emergency Supplies An extensive list to get you started.
NEDCC Preservation 101 Disaster Supply Checklist A handy printable checklist.
University Products Disaster Recovery Kit An off-the-shelf option with some basic supplies.
Gaylord Be Ready Recovery Kit Another ready-made option.

What’s in your disaster supply kit?

May Day: Time to Update Your Disaster Plan

It’s May Day, the annual celebration that reminds you to spend a few minutes to make sure your cultural heritage organization is ready when a disaster hits. Be it small or large, any kind of emergency in your institution needs a plan.

Do one thing today to make sure you are ready. That can be making sure the phone numbers and URL’s in your plan are updated; you can look at your disaster kit and make sure your have plenty of supplies on hand; or make sure everyone in your organization knows where they can find a copy of the plan.

Disaster Plan Templates

A 2014 follow up survey by IMLS indicated that only 42% of collecting institutions had a disaster plan. While that was almost double from the initial Heritage Health Survey in 2004, that is still an alarming number. It may take more than 15 minutes to write a plan. There are many templates out there, and once you have that draft the subsequent updates are easy.

The Pocket Response Plan (TM) PREP (TM) templates are one of the easiest plans to adopt. These are customizable templates. We have a phone tree on one side, and we wrote First Steps for staff who will be first on the scene.  This plan folds down into a credit card-sized plan that can fit into a small envelope or your wallet. Handy especially when cell phone towers are out due to storms.

The Field Guide to Emergency Response is a handy spiral-bound book that can walk you through creating a disaster plan. This is a great option for smaller organizations, or for people who like a portable paper option for your plan.

Page from Field Guide with list of contacts
Field Guide to Emergency Response

The Risk Evaluation and Planning Program (REPP) is a series of self-study tools. Originally developed by Heritage Preservation with support from an IMLS grant, the project helps you identify your institution’s risks, helps you prioritize risks, and provides many checklists and worksheets. It requires some time to go through the entire set of worksheets, but you will know a lot about your building and risk factors at the end.

Preservation Week 2024 is Here!

Preservation Week Panel Discussion on Public Digital Collections of Conservation Treatment Documentation

For Preservation Week 2024, Duke University Libraries will host a virtual panel discussion about Public Digital Collections of Conservation Treatment Documentation on Thursday May 2 at 11 am EDT. Conservation representatives from four institutions (The British Museum, The Preservation Lab (Cincinnati, Ohio), Duke University Libraries, and Stanford Libraries) will share their experiences in building and sharing their institutions’ digital collections of conservation treatment documentation. Panelists will introduce their collections and discuss topics such as digital preservation of treatment records, metadata creation, linking to catalog records and finding aids, and potential privacy and copyright issues.

Duke Library Conservation Documentation Archive webpage header.



Cost is free but registration is required
Thursday, May 2, 2024
11:00 a.m.  to 12:30 pm EDT (Starts at 10:00 Central, 8 am Pacific Daylight Time, 4 pm British Summer Time)
The panel will be recorded and the video will be shared with registered attendees upon request.

Use this link to register for the Zoom: 


Louisa Burden, Head of Conservation, British Museum
Ashleigh Ferguson Schieszer, Book and Paper Conservator, Co-Lab Manager, (she/her)
Erin Hammeke, Senior Conservator for Special Collections, Duke University Libraries (she/they)
Ryan Lieu, Conservation Operations Coordinator, Stanford Libraries (he/him)

Collection Links:

British Museum
Preservation Lab
Duke University Libraries
Stanford Libraries


Sewing Spiral-Bound Items into Pamphlet Binders

We recently attended a webinar on the binding, preservation, and care of music scores held jointly by the ALA/Core Preservation Administrators Interest Group and the Music Library Association Preservation Committee. Yes, we talked for over an hour about binding scores, and it was amazing!

If you are interested in viewing the recording, you can access it through the University of Maryland digital repository. During the presentation, we mentioned that we routinely sew spiral-bound items into Archival Products Spine Wrap (TM) pamphlet binders.

People asked if we had instructions, which of course has been on my to-do list for a while. So I created this short video demonstrating how we sew these. There is no narration, only ambient noise. Some day I will write up the instructions, but until then, hopefully you can use this video and the quick explanation below to see our method. Once you do three or four, you get the hang of it and it goes really quickly. At the 05:40 mark you can see the “shake test.” These are firmly attached as long as your sewing is tight, and you have the full function of the spiral.

The quick explanation:

With an awl, punch sewing stations. Each station consists of two holes, one on either side of a wire. 3-5 stations is adequate unless your pamphlet is very large.

Image shows two punched holes on either side of spiral wire

Starting at the top, go in through the back and through a wire loop. Go out and back in again, wrapping the wire twice.

This image shows each spiral wire being wrapped twice.

Pull tight, and tie a square knot. Go to the next sewing station and do the same, wrapping the wire twice. Loop the needle under the thread at the spine to create leverage when tightening, and continue along until the end.

Image shows sewing needle looping under some thread.

At the end, once you have looped the wire twice and tightened the thread, loop the needle under the thread above and tie a square knot.

Image shows a square knot.

Finish the pamphlet by removing the paper and wrapping the spine around neatly. Remove the protective blue film.  Voila!

Islamic Binding Workshop with Yasmeen Khan

by Erin Hammeke, Senior Conservator

Duke University Libraries recently hosted an Islamic Bookbinding workshop with instructor Yasmeen Khan, head of Paper Conservation at the Library of Congress. Staff from Preservation at UNC libraries; Duke Conservation Services; and former HBCU library conservation alliance intern, Layla Huff, attended the workshop. During the course of the week, we learned how to construct a Persian bookbinding model that illustrates many of the structural, material, and decorative features of Islamic bookmaking. The models have hand-sewn textblocks, woven silk endbands, gold-sprinkled endleaves, an envelope flap, and goatskin leather covers decorated with a traditional brass stamp. Students personalized their bindings with additional decorative elements like ruled and gold tooled lines, gold paint, and colored leather onlays. We also discussed conservation considerations for Islamic materials with Yasmeen and examined Islamic bookbindings from the Rubenstein Library Collections.

The workshop was generously funded by the TRLN Library Consortium’s IDEA funds. Big thanks to TRLN and to Yasmeen for making this workshop possible!

Staff around a table observing endband sewing

Staff gathered around tables receiving instruction on bookbinding techniques.

Endband sewing in progress

Endband sewing finished

Leather covered board with blind tooling and stamping, before attaching to the textblock.

Finished binding in 3/4 view Considering the great expanse of the Islamic world, there is much variation in bookbinding features associated with diverse cultural traditions and geographic origins. We got the chance to examine and compare Duke’s holdings of rare Islamic manuscripts.

Library staff around a table examining historical examples of Persian and North African bindingsThe Rubenstein Library holds Persian items (from India and Iran), Moroccan, Ethiopian, Turkish, and Chinese Uygur bookbinding holdings, as well as others whose geographic origins have not yet been identified. While the Islamic calligraphic manuscript tradition was paramount, the decorative features of bookbindings are also often quite glorious – from intricately painted lacquer bindings to stenciled or cut paper endsheets – these features can give clues about where an item originated and also to whom the bookbinding may have been marketed in the modern book trade.

Arabic MS 20 open to to show square-shaped page format

Arabic Manuscript 020 has the more squarish format typical of Maghrebi bindings from Morocco.

Arabic Manuscript 048, a Chinese Uygur Qur’an, has endleaves decorated with colorful paper cut outs and a decoratively cut envelope flap.

Everyone's finished book on one tableHosting this workshop reminded us of how important it is to have opportunities to expand our knowledge bases and also to convene with our regional colleagues for much-needed training. With a topic this large, many of us learned how little we knew and how much more there is to learn. It was a good reminder that of how important it is to advocate and care for all materials and it’s easier to do this when one is better informed about the history and unique features of such collections.

A group photo of all workshop participants standing, holding their finished book

Enclosure Love: The Lilly Renovation Edition

We love a good custom enclosure!

Last week, Crozier Fine Arts was on site to de-install, crate, and move the art and artifacts from the Lilly Library Thomas Room in preparation of the start of renovation this summer. It was incredible to watch this team get all of the work off the walls and into crates in five days.

The custom crates were made off site and shipped to the library. First up was crating the pair of marble lions that stood at the south door of the Thomas Room.

Three movers position a marble lion statue onto wooden supports in preparation of crating.
How do you wrangle marble lions? With many steady hands and a lot of shims.


Two marble lion statues in a large wooden shipping crate.

The statue of Benjamin Duke was estimated to weigh about 450 pounds. It took a lot of time, and careful planning, to get it off its platform and into a crate.

Marble statue of Benjamin Duke in Lilly Library.
Benjamin Duke awaiting his crate.
Two men move the marble statue of Benjamin Duke.
Moving Ben, inch by inch.
Marble statue of Benjamin Duke in a custom shipping crate.
Ben is ready for his road trip!

We have a lot more photos to share from the week. Until we get them posted, please see these other excellent recaps of the move of the art and artifacts from the Thomas Room. You can read more about the upcoming Lilly Closure and Renovation here.

To the Bookbinder.

The ancient Greek mathematician Euclid is widely known as the father of geometry, and his 13 book treatise, Elements, was one of the most famous mathematical texts in antiquity. The original text (written around 300 BCE) is no longer available to us, but it was widely copied and translated into many different languages over the centuries, with the first English translation appearing in 1570 CE. There have been many editions of the book as scholars analyze and retranslate extant manuscript copies, along with early commentaries and annotations.

A brown leather book sitting on a table surface in 3/4 view, showing detached boards. This 1719 English edition recently came across my bench with detached boards and powdery leather, fairly common condition problems for a leather trade binding from this period. The textblock was a bit dirty, with grime building up particularly at the folded engravings. As I was surface cleaning the first of them, I noticed some interesting instructions for the bookbinder included at the bottom of the print:

“To the Bookbinder. Page 44 Observe that every Scheme is made to fold out fronting the page directed to; And so, that when they are unfolded all y figures may ly clear out of the Book.”

The binder did successfully follow the instructions to make the diagrams visible “clear out of the book.”

It’s a useful arrangement to have the sheet extend that far out, so as the reader is going through the steps used to construct an object using a straightedge and compass, they can view the entire diagram and follow along visually. Otherwise, if the diagrams were bound in the usual way, the recto of one page might obscure the diagram you were looking at and you would be forced to flip back and forth.

What I love about these simple instructions is that they provide a little glimpse into the design and production of this object. Many tradespeople contributed to making the book, but they were working in different places and at different times. Including instructions for assembly in the prints is very helpful. For books sold in sheets, the printer or book seller may never meet the binder and be able to explain how it should be assembled. Had the book come to the lab in a worse state, with broken sewing  or parts detached, that little note might also be useful for me.

Duke University Libraries Preservation